City Gossip

At last McGonagall has floated to the surface of the sea of troubles, and with head well above water he is riding on the crest of a wave of fame down the stream of time to all eternity. This may appear hyperbolical, metaphorical, philosophical, poetical, sympathetical, or any other sort of language you please, but I could at the moment find nothing more elegant of forcible in Johnson’s dictionary to express my jubilation. I had always said the “poet” will be recognised after Shakespeare, Milton and Tennyson were forgotten, but I was not so sanguine as to expect that fame was already at his door.

This week has been the most eventful in the history of Poet McGonagall. A bad beginning makes a good ending, and the truth of that oft-repeated saying was fully verified on this occasion. The black cloud came down in the form of a letter from no less a personage than the Marquis of Lorne. In the fullness of his heart, which burns – and ever will burn – with loyalty to his Royal patron the Queen, McGonagall thought he could not pay a more graceful compliment to the son-in-law of Her Most Gracious Majesty than to present him with a copy of his immortal poem on the death and burial of Tennyson. A more opportune moment could not have been chosen for making the gift – Tennyson was dead and out of the way, and Lorne was eating and drinking with ex-Provost Moncur at Rockfield.

That was on Friday last, when, as all the world knows, Lorne and Louise honoured our city with their august presence for a few hours. It was but a flying visit, and the Marquis had probably found no time to attend to the Poet’s letter. He must have put it in his pocket and forgotten all about it till he put his best coat on to go to kirk on Sunday. At any rate, whether Lorne wears his Sunday clothes on weekdays or only dons them when he goes on holiday as he did on Friday, I cannot very well say, not being a Marquis. I only draw the inference from the fact that His Highness did not find time to write to McGonagall till Sunday. But here is a copy of the letter; the original is in my possession, and may be seen by those that are fond of curiosities:-

Glamis Castle, N.B.,
October 23, 1892.

Sir, — I thank you for your enclosure, and, as a friend, would advise you to resolve to keep strictly to prose for the future.

Believe me,
yours in faithful dealing,


That was the cloud that fell like the “Dark Day of Dundee” over the Poet and his household on Monday. Think of it, read it over and over, and ponder the full meaning of that short, sharp, cruel little letter. I cannot analyse the Poet’s feelings, but this I know, he did not sit down on the cutty stool at the cheek of the fire and distill his brains into tears or train oil. No, the Poet is a man of metal, and can rise to the occasion, and he rose and boldly denounced Lorne and all of his kidney as a set of ignorant, unmitigated humbugs.

Like his father, Argyle, Lorne must have been troubled with the bile when he penned that letter. Possibly he had eaten too much salmon at Rockfield, where there was never a drop of brandy to qualify it with. In that case, we could sympathise with the poor fellow; but he might have got plenty of the tonic at Glamis, and been cured before Sunday. No, there was more than the bile, and McGonagall has discovered the secret with his usual discernment and deep insight into human nature. The fact is Lorne was jealous. He has, I believe, attempted to string a “wheen blathers up in rhyme” in his time, and thinks he is a poet.

McGonagall is a philosopher as well as a poet. He believes in the grand sentiment uttered by old John Milton, that “every cloud has a silver lining.” He told his family that “good would come out of evil” that showed what a wonderful mind he had, for it came all right in the end, as shilling novels do. He was still smarting under the sting of Lorne, when a special messenger was despatched by the Earl of Camperdown to make haste and search the City of Dundee for the great Poet McGonagall.

The Earl had heard of the poem on “Tennyson,” and he gave orders to procure three copies of the work without delay. Such an order from an Earl was worth sixpence, and that was the modest sum that the Poet charged his Lordship of Camperdown, only double the price to the general public. After that, Lorne ought to make a humble apology to McGonagall.

“It never rains but it pours.” Misfortunes never come single, and good luck flows like streams in a desert place when it does come. That poem on the death and burial of Tennyson has reached the editorial ear of Labouchere and this week’s Truth has a brief review and quotation. Labby, however, has jumped to a rather hasty conclusion. He imagines that McGonagall has made a bid for the vacant Laureateship.

McGonagall, though as much, if not more in need, and as fitted for the vacant office, has made no direct application for the job. He has been urged over and over again by his soi-disant friends to go for it. He believed, however, he had no chance in the face of a host of hungry English poetasters. But Labby has brought McGonagall under the eye of London society, and his fame, already world-wide, will extend to the mountains of the moon and farther.

A brother poet pleads with me to find room for the following tribute of admiration:-

Humble poet, amidst the surging throng,
Moving unheeded, though a prince of song,
On thy way, void of crass ostentation,
Royalty, the while, of our brave nation.
Gladdening the impulses of Jute city;
Walked thee, reflective, yet with noble grace,
Heavenly thoughts bright beaming from your face,
As ever and anon thy poetic eye
The happy crowd, bunting, and cerulean sky
Noted for a gay impending ditty.
Haste thee then, poet, with thy thrilling muse,
In attractive Louise praise, regale me,
In thee, Deidons trust, thou won’t abuse,
Though pigmy, invidious poets will rail, as
Unseemly and often as they railed before,
Come, thou poet of the charming silvery Tay,
Lo! another stepping stone to glory!
Inflate our breasts with charming thoughts, and gay,
In thine own floris style, sing the story.
On our city, honour thou’lt ever pour:
Years increasing, thy themes poetic soar,
And live they will, yes, when thou’lt be no more
Or stand, in bronze ‘neath our Library door,
Not in niche neglected, at Bradford’s store,
As poetasters who have vexed thee sore.
As lordly oaks in storm more firmly root,
Flourish, poet! Lorne’s advice place under foot.
What, poet! to the cheerless realms of prose
Because he, who has Thistle joined to Rose,
Advised it! Cherish thy poetic flame
For marmalade and jute alone, that fame!
To our children, Mac! dear will be thy name

Weekly News, 29th October 1892

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